On Liberty and Slavery

“On Liberty and Slavery” is a poem written by George Moses Horton, an African American poet born into slavery, in 1829.
George Moses Horton
Grade Level

Alas! and am I born for this, 
To wear this slavish chain?
Deprived of all created bliss, 
Through hardship, toil and pain! 

How long have I in bondage lain, 
And languished to be free! 
Alas! and must I still complain 
Deprived of liberty. 

Oh, Heaven! and is there no relief 
This side the silent grave— 
To soothe the pain—to quell the grief 
And anguish of a slave? 

Come Liberty, thou cheerful sound, 
Roll through my ravished ears! 
Come, let my grief in joys be drowned, 
And drive away my fears. 

Say unto foul oppression, Cease: 
Ye tyrants rage no more, 
And let the joyful trump of peace, 
Now bid the vassal soar. 

Soar on the pinions of that dove 
Which long has cooed for thee, 
And breathed her notes from Africa's grove, 
The sound of Liberty. 

Oh, Liberty! thou golden prize, 
So often sought by blood— 
We crave thy sacred sun to rise, 
The gift of nature’s God! 

Bid Slavery hide her haggard face, 
And barbarism fly: 
I scorn to see the sad disgrace 
In which enslaved I lie. 

Dear Liberty! upon thy breast, 
I languish to respire; 
And like the Swan unto her nest, 
I’d to thy smiles retire. 

Oh, blest asylum—heavenly balm! 
Unto thy boughs I flee— 
And in thy shades the storm shall calm, 
With songs of Liberty! 

This text is in the public domain.
Text Dependent Questions
  1. Question
    List words George Moses Horton uses in the poem to characterize the condition of enslaved people. What, in your opinion, is the effect of his precise use of these particular words on the tone of the poem?
    Deprived, hardship, toil, pain, bondage, anguish, grief, oppression, tyrant, rage, barbarism, scorn, disgrace. Student responses will vary but may point out that the words help convey a strong, yet pained, tone or that the words describe the feelings and associations of slavery.
  2. Question
    List words George Moses Horton uses in the poem to describe liberty. What is, in your opinion, the effect of these words on the theme of the poem?
    Bliss, free, cheerful, joys, joyful, peace, sacred sun, golden prize, swan, smiles, heavenly balm, calm. Student responses will vary but may point to the overwhelmingly positive associations with liberty and the way that the juxtaposition of these words with the description of slavery works to develop the theme of liberty as something deeply desired.
  3. Question
    To whom do you think this poem is addressed? Who is the speaker speaking to? Use evidence from the text to support your answer.
    Student responses will vary but should include reference to the text.
Reveal Answers
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